The Voice of America's Chief White House Correspondent Dan Robinson spoke to the 2012 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters (NASB) in Washington on May 10 and 11. Robinson, an avid shortwave listener since 1968, talked about how his interest in shortwave radio led him to a career as an international broadcast journalist. Over the years, he has served as VOA correspondent in East Africa and Bangkok, and director of the VOA's Burmese section. Today, he works out of the White House and travels with the U.S. President to places like Cartagena most recently, where he reported on the Secret Service controversy and the other news made at the recent Summit of the Americas there.
Other recent news events such as the activities surrounding Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng made the NASB annual meeting location quite timely. The conference was hosted by Radio Free Asia at its headquarters in Washington. Dan Southerland, Vice President for Programming at RFA and editors of the Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese and Korean services talked about the challenges they have with newsgathering and reporting in their target countries, and about the loyal following they have among millions of listeners throughout Asia. They explained that while RFA is using a lot of new technologies to reach Asian listeners, shortwave radio remains a primary form of delivery for the station. In countries like North Korea, shortwave is virtually the only means of reaching listeners from abroad.
Dr, Kim Andrew Elliott, audience research specialist at the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), presented survey results showing what types of media, including shortwave receivers, people have access to in Asian and Africa countries, and via what means they listen to international broadcasters. While he noted that shortwave listenership is small or decreasing in many countries, Elliott said it is still very popular in some countries, including many parts of Africa and in other areas of the world where press freedom is limited and people seek information from abroad.
Other speakers at the NASB annual meeting included A.J. Janitschek, RFA's director of program and operations support, who told broadcasters about many smartphone applications that help broadcasters and engineers do their jobs more easily. Janitschek was also the principal organizer of the NASB meeting for RFA.
Part of the meeting was dedicated to presentations by the USA DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) group. DRM Consortium steering board member Adil Mina of Continental Electronics in Dallas gave an update on the status of DRM, which is the only method of digital broadcasting approved for shortwave broadcasters in the United States and around the world. He talked frankly about the political and technological obstacles that DRM has encountered, including slow development of mass-production, low-cost DRM receivers. But Mina said that there are positive developments in that regard under new DRM Consortium leadership, and he demonstrated a new DRM receiver that currently costs about $120, but is not yet available in the U.S. market.
Charles Jacobson of HCJB's Global Technology Center in Elkhart, Indiana told about their conversion of 100-kilowatt shortwave transmitters to DRM transmission capability, and John Wineman, also of HCJB, explained how a group of students at LeTourneau University is helping to develop a "DRM diversity receiver." Jacobson said that HCJB's German partner, Vozandes Media, has just decided to abandon its plans to build a new 100-kilowatt shortwave transmitter site in Ecuador to transmit to the Amazon region of South America. A low-power (eight kilowatt) shortwave transmitter on 6050 kHz intended to reach rural areas of Ecuador is the only remaining HCJB shortwave transmission from Ecuador, and it is operated by Vozandes Media.
Dr. Adrian Peterson, International Relations Coordinator for NASB member Adventist World Radio and a member of the NASB Board, provided a report on the latest activities of AWR, which continues to rely highly on shortwave broadcasts in many parts of the world. AWR is installing new antennas at its shortwave station in Guam, and it uses many shortwave relay stations around the world to transmit its programming from dozens of studios located worldwide.
Thomas Witherspoon heads a non-profit organization called Ears to Our World, which distributes "wind-up" shortwave receivers free of charge to teachers in Africa and other areas of the world where there is little or no electricity or Internet. He gave an emotional presentation called "Shortwave for Good" about how these listeners often have no other form of contact with the outside world, and about how shortwave radio transmissions are being used to educate young people in remote locations.
Tom Lucey of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) International Bureau presented his new colleague Shahnaz Ghavami to the group and said that there have been two recent applications for new privately-owned shortwave stations in the United States. Lucey
said that it is still very difficult to find clear in-band frequencies, so shortwave is far from dying.
Dr. Donald Messer, formerly of IBB engineering and former head of the DRM Technical Committee, presented the good news that a new system of oceanographic radar that is using HF frequencies has decided to stay clear of most of the frequency ranges that U.S. shortwave broadcasters use.
Mark Allen of NASB's newest associate member, Antenna Products of Mineral Wells, Texas, explained the work that his company does with government and private clients around the world, including sophisticated high-power shortwave transmission antennas. He pointed out that 90 percent of the world's airports have antennas manufactured by Antenna Products. [Anyone who would like a printed or electronic copy of the Antenna Products master catalog may e-mail Mark Allen at: allen at antennaproducts dot com
Another new NASB associate member is the Far East Broadcasting Company. FEBC was one of the founding members of the Association in 1990, but in 2011 it closed its shortwave station KFBS in Saipan, a U.S.-administered area in the Pacific Ocean. Only FCC-licensed shortwave stations can be voting members of the NASB, so FEBC is now an associate member. FEBC's Chris Slabaugh explained that his organization decided to consolidate its shortwave operations as a cost-cutting measure, so the transmitters in Saipan were moved to two shortwave transmission sites which the company already owns in the Philippines. Dismantling the Saipan station and moving everything to the Philippines turned out to be a long, complex project, but it has now been successfully completed.
Dr. Jerry Plummer of NASB member WWCR in Nashville, Tennessee, presented to the group the results of a one-year survey of Spanish-speaking shortwave listeners that the NASB carried out via its webage. Not surprisingly, most respondents were from Latin America and Iberia. Interestingly, however, the survey showed that the average age of respondents to the Spanish language survey was significantly lower than that of respondents to a similar English-language survey that the NASB did the year before. This supports a conclusion that shortwave listeners in Latin America are overall younger than shortwave listeners in North America, Europe and some other parts of the world, perhaps boding well for the future of shortwave listening in Latin America.
The final speaker at the 2012 NASB annual meeting was NASB President Glen Tapley of WEWN in Birmingham, Alabama. He invited everyone interested in shortwave broadcasting and listening to attend the 2013 NASB annual meeting, which his station will host in Birmingham on May 16 and 17, 2013. Activities will include a visit to the breathtaking mountain location of WEWN's shortwave transmitter facility on the outskirts of Birmingham, complete with a mountain-top barbecue. More details will be available shortly on the NASB's webpage, www.shortwave.org. In the coming days, the website will also be posting audio files of most of the presentations at this year's annual meeting, and PowerPoint presentations as well.
At the annual business portion of the meeting, Brady Murray of WWCR was elected to a second three-year term on the NASB board of directors. Murray was re-elected NASB Vice President, and Glen Tapley was re-elected as President. Jeff White of WRMI in Miami was re-elected Secretary-Treasurer, and Thais White of WRMI was re-elected Assistant Secretary Treasurer. The NASB board voted to grant the status of "Associate Member Emeritus" for the first time, issuing the award to George Jacobs, who for decades worked as an HF frequency planner for the International Broadcasting Bureau and later for many privately-owned shortwave stations in the United States.
Photos from the NASB 2012 annual meeting will soon appear on the Association's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/nasbshortwave
(Via Jeff White, NASB)